Bush’s overall approval rating same as April. Kerry better equipped to balance federal budget.

Voters give President George W. Bush a sizable edge over Senator John Kerry in terms of who is best prepared to respond to an international crisis and to lead the war on terror. But voters view Kerry as more empathetic and better equipped to balance the federal budget, according to the latest Elon University Poll.

The survey of 494 North Carolina voters, conducted Sept. 20-23, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

The poll also found that voters are:

  • Becoming increasingly negative about the war in Iraq
  • Expressing growing optimism about their own economic prospects
  • Paying close attention to the presidential election campaign.

The latest poll found that President Bush’s overall job approval rating, at 51 percent, is virtually unchanged since the last Elon University Poll in April.

But voters’ evaluations of the president’s handling of the economy and the war in Iraq reflect continued dissatisfaction, with more people expressing disapproval than approval. Forty-eight percent disapproved of the job the president was doing managing the national economy, and 51 percent disapproved of his handling of the war in Iraq.

Opinion about the economy was mixed. Forty-two percent said they expected the national economy to get better within the next year, while 32 percent said the same about the state economy. Forty-one percent said they expected their personal financial positions to get better over the next year, up from 35 percent in November 2003

Poll results also reflected increasing concern about the war in Iraq. The survey found 53.6 percent said the was right to use military force in Iraq, down 4.8 percentage points from April. Forty-one percent said the use of military force was wrong, up from 36 percent in April. Forty-seven percent said the is now more at risk of future terrorist attacks given the result of the war in Iraq, up from 40 percent in April.

Forty percent said they believed the president has a clear plan for resolving the situation in Iraq, a six-point increase since April. In contrast, 24 percent said presidential challenger John Kerry has a clear plan for Iraq.

“While North Carolina voters express strong reservations about the president’s conduct of the war, Senator Kerry has yet to make inroads on this issue,” said Tim Vercellotti, director of the Elon University Poll.

Comparisons of the two leading presidential candidates on various policy issues reinforced the notion that Bush’s strength lies in military matters. Fifty-three percent of voters said Bush would do a better job of responding to an international crisis, while 32 percent gave the nod to Kerry. Voters also favored Bush over Kerry by a similar margin concerning who was best equipped to lead the war on terror.

Kerry, however, outpaced Bush on fiscal matters. Forty-one percent said Kerry would do a better job of balancing the budget, compared to 30 percent for Bush. The two were statistically even in terms of their ability to improve the economy. Voters gave Kerry the advantage on empathy, with 45 percent agreeing that he cares more about the needs and problems of people like themselves, compared to 38 percent for Bush.

“If the election centers on national security, President Bush holds a clear advantage in North Carolina,” Vercellotti said. “But if the campaign discourse shifts to domestic issues, Kerry might be able to play to his strength.”

Voters also have begun to pay greater attention to the presidential campaign. Sixty-nine percent said they were very closely or closely following the race, more than double the percentage who gave those answers last November.

This poll is the 25th conducted by the Elon Institute for Politics and Public Affairs since it was established in September 2000. The non-partisan Elon Poll conducts frequent statewide scientific telephone polls on issues of importance to North Carolinians. The poll results are shared with media, citizens and researchers to facilitate representative democracy and public policy making through the better understanding of the opinions and needs of North Carolina citizens.

The Elon Poll is conducted by students who work under the direction of faculty members in the political science department. A computerized polling center located on campus is equipped with sophisticated statistical software and 30 telephone polling stations.